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The Return of Rick Barton
Former Dropkick Murphys guitarist visits the Brass Rail with new band Continentals
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
As the 90s drew to a close, Boston punk band Dropkick Murphys were on the verge of shedding their up-and-coming status and moving to much bigger things. Forming in 1996, the band released several EPs and singles on its own before being signed to Hellcat records, who released Dropkick Murphy’s first full-length Do or Die in 1998 and its follow-up The Gang’s All Here in 1999. Through constant touring the band had garnered a loyal, enthusiastic following, and the future seemed bright…
But guitarist and co-founder Rick Barton decided he had had enough. He quit Dropkick Murphys in 2000, right in the middle of recording the band’s third album for Hellcat. “Myself and Kenny (Casey, bass player and co-founder) ended up hating each other,” Barton says. “We’ve since made amends, but you know, touring in a band for four straight years… that same old story.”
14 years later, Barton is touring with a band again — Continental, the group he formed with his son Stephen, stops by the Brass Rail on Sunday, March 16 — but after he left Dropkick Murphys, Barton didn’t do much with music, at least not publicly. “I think I played about seven gigs in the seven years,” he says. “I just wanted to take a long break from it, live an ordinary life, which I like anyway. That was part of the reason I left Dropkick Murphys — it wasn’t all me and Kenny’s problems. I was struggling with becoming famous. I didn’t do that well. I think I had a problem with success.”
But he didn’t give up music. Far from it. He jammed with friends, wrote and recorded with the band Street Dogs, and kept writing his own songs. “I have to write songs,” he says. “That’s what I do. That’s what I enjoy the most about music, just sitting down and letting the songs flow out of me. I’ll do that until the day I die, no matter what happens.”
Barton’s son Stephen heard one of his demos for a song called “Curious Spell” and asked what else he had in that vein. Barton had plenty, and with Stephen’s urging they formed Continental — Rick and Stephen Barton on vocals/guitar and bass, respectively, along with Dave DePrest (guitar/vocals), and Derek 'The Kid' Louis (drums).
Barton doesn’t seem like what you might consider a punk rocker — he says he likes recording and putting out records more than performing, and views his time on stage as a chance for him to get better at his instrument.
But Continental’s music doesn’t sound like what you might expect from a punker, either. Don’t get me wrong: many of the songs rock pretty hard, and all of them, even the slow ones, have the sort of raw edge most people associate with punk. But there’s a “rootsy” feel to many of the songs, a little country, folk, and blues, that you don’t hear much in
punk. Barton comes to my rescue as I try to babble some of my impressions of the music to him. “What you’re saying is exactly what every single person who comes to see us says. There are subtleties to the music, and you can hear the lyrics and the melody.”
Barton was a little older than some of his punk rock peers, and cut his teeth on artists like
The Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper before “going over” to punk in the late 70s/early 80s. “Even then, the bands I was drawn to were the more melodic bands, like Stiff Little Fingers and Buzzcocks,” he continues. “I love The Replacements, for example. A lot of
those bands, they got the ‘punk’ label, but they weren’t really ‘punk.’ But you know… that’s what music should be. It should come from the heart, not from sitting around and saying ‘we should sound like this. We should write songs about that.’ I think what I do now, the music I do now, was what I was meant to do.”
“One of the guys in the band was saying he thinks we sound a little like Joe strummers and the Mescaleros,” Barton adds, his tone of voice suggesting that maybe he didn’t necessarily think so, but he’s okay with the comparison. “The kids are in to that kind of music now, the ‘roots’ stuff. Not that we set out to be a certain kind of band, but…”
The kids? Barton isn’t just talking about the younger people in the audience; he’s also talking about his band mates. Barton is in his very early 50s; the rest of the band is about 30 years younger. It’s a boring question, but it needs to be asked: what’s it like…?
“With all due respect, I hate hanging around with old people,” Barton laughs. “I cannot relate to old people. I have nothing in common with older people. I don’t care about stocks or what’s on TV or any of the other things people my age seem to care about. I’ve been on the road a lot these past four years; I don’t even have a house… I just love the
youth. They crack me up, they keep me vital, and I’d have it no other way.”
“I can’t imagine touring with a bunch of crotchety old people, no matter how great they were as musicians.”
To hear him tell it, Barton likes the idea of “beginning again” with a new band, a couple of solid albums (All A Man can Do  and Death of a Garage Band ) to their name; a new single (“1000 Miles”/”fun Fun Fun”) that’ll be available by the time you read this; and a lot of shows. “Every night it’s this brand new audience that seems to totally dig our music,” Barton says. “Every show is with this new audience that doesn’t know our songs yet.”
And yeah, that’s different for Barton. Towards the end of his stint with Dropkick Murphys, he could count on an audience of a few thousand knowing every single song. “It’s so much easier that way,” he laughs. “I’d just show up. Now, there’s 75 people out there and you have to work hard to impress them. But there’s something very rewarding in that, in winning them over. It’s a great feeling.”
Continental appear at The Brass Rail Sunday, March 16.
For more on Continental — including music and videos — visit continentalband.com.